There’s no other way for a beaming Stacey Kohler to describe it.
The prospect of having her own apartment in a new rental-housing development planned by Semiahmoo House Society in South Surrey is a “dream come true,” she said.
The 32 year-old developmentally-disabled athlete – she won bronze with Team Canada in the 3000-metre race at the Special Olympic World Summer Games in 2011 – is friendly, a great talker and hard worker in the society’s food services program who also loves to be a part of the general community through her part time landscaping work.
But finding independent housing for someone in her situation is an almost insurmountable obstacle, as society executive director Doug Tennant notes.
The best that can be done, usually, is a group home or a home share.
“People with developmental disabilities have a huge limitation on where they can live,” he said. “What generally happens in Surrey is that people end up living with their parents.”
But that’s changed with the new development, a long-standing dream for the society and former executive director Paul Wheeler.
Over 10 years ago the society started the purchase of four residential lots adjacent to its administration and services building for just such a building.
The original plan was to build 55 strata condo units, of which maybe 12-15 would be owned by the society and available to developmentally disabled people it supports.
But that changed when the society’s builder and developer, Marcon, came back with a different idea.
As an organization not driven by maximizing profit, the society, it suggested, could afford to build a rental building that its foundation – the Semiahmoo Foundation – would own in perpetuity.
Now approved after fourth reading by the City of Surrey, the ‘inclusive apartment project’ will include 71 units, of which 20 will be made available to developmentally disabled tenants as either rentals or long-term leases, and 51 will be offered to the general public at affordable, below-market rates.
Construction will get underway this month, and could be complete and ready for occupancy as soon as the fall of 2016, Marcon project supervisor Nic Paolella said.
Tennant said the society has been told by city staff it’s the first purpose-built affordable rental option in Surrey in three decades.
But while Stacey’s mom, Beryl, shares the excitement that the project will benefit the community at large, she’s overjoyed and relieved that her daughter will be able to have a housing placement that fits her needs exactly.
It will mean an apartment right where she works and at the centre of the recreational activities she most enjoys – things like dance, musical theatre and movie-night drop-ins – now that the international competition phase of her athletic career is coming towards its end.
“She’s so vulnerable and she’s lived at home all her life,” she said. “As a parent of a child with special needs you wonder what’s going to happen when you’re no longer there for her. This will provide the independence she desperately wants, but also the safety she needs.”
She and her husband first started bringing Stacey to Semiahmoo House when she was 19, she said. They were living in North Delta at the time, but Semiahmoo House was a place where Stacey immediately felt at home and connected with the staff, community and volunteers.
“We’ve been in White Rock seven years,” she said. “We actually moved here because of Semiahmoo House, because we were always dropping her off in the morning and picking her up at night.”
Paolella said he believes that the Semiahmoo House project doesn’t have to be a one-off in the development market.
“It’s a huge solution to (affordable housing),” he said.
“A lot of the time affordable rentals come by way of building getting very old, and that’s been an issue. But being able to work with a non-profit organization – one that doesn’t have a mandate for profit, an opportunity presents itself.
“Now that we’ve created the model, we hope it’s one that can be replicable elsewhere.”